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A Civil War widow joins the Sisters of Providence

A portrait of Minerva Dufficy (Sisters of Providence Archives)

With the death of her husband, Major John Patrick Dufficy, on June 20, 1864, Minerva Dufficy became a widow. By an act approved by Congress on July 14, 1862, she was entitled to a widow’s claim. Minerva received a monthly check of $25 a month. According to documentation from Congress, widows received this pay throughout the remainder of their lives or until they remarried.

Minerva Dufficy was very important to the Sisters of Providence. On November 2, 1871, Minerva entered the Sisters of Providence to become a nun. She was given the religious name Sister Frances de Chantal All-Dufficy. (All was her maiden name.) As a new sister, she ministered at Providence Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana, until it closed in 1874. She then served in orphanages for boys and girls in Vincennes, Indiana. In 1880, she was sent to St. John Parish in Indianapolis to minister. It was in Indianapolis that tragedy struck Sister Frances de Chantal.

Which source is correct?

Historians work with many primary sources and secondary sources to better understand an event, person, movement and so on. However, as the following information about the death of Sister Frances de Chantal All-Dufficy illustrates, sources can be conflicting because memories can fail or misinformation can be provided to a person who is recording an event.

Letter from Mary Grace Tiernan Roberts
to Sister Mary Borromeo Brown, Congregation historian

Mary Grace Tiernan Roberts was the great niece of Minerva Dufficy or Sister Frances de Chantal All-Dufficy. Minerva married Mary Grace’s grandmother’s only brother John Patrick Dufficy in 1843. In a November 1951 letter to Sister Mary Borromeo Brown, Mary Grace retells the story of Sister Frances de Chantal’s tragic death on February 9, 1881.

In her letter, Mary Grace noted that a pork factory in Indianapolis had burned the night before (February 8). She wrote: Hogs were running wild on the streets and got under her horses feet. They ran away. Auntie was thrown out of the carriage and was instantly killed on Washington Street. At the age of ten years I attended her funeral. Mary Grace also wrote that several of her deceased husband’s military companions accompanied Sister Frances de Chantal’s body to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for burial in the Congregation’s cemetery.

History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods:
Volume 2, 1856-1894 (1978) by Sister Eugenia Logan

According to this secondary source which cites the Community Diary of the Congregation for February 9, 1881, Sister Frances de Chantal died in the following manner: Sister Frances de Chantal Dufficy … had been permitted to pursue her charitable work of visiting the poor and sick of the city. She had her own horse and buggy which, however, was also at the service of the convent. She left St. John’s to go to the packing house to buy meat, but as she passed the factory, the cattle stampeded across the road, frightening the horse. The buggy was overturned and Sister France de Chantal was thrown against a post, fracturing her skull. She never regained consciousness and died the next day.

Be careful what you record!

As this very small example shows, two very different descriptions of one event can be created. Yes, video cameras, digital audio recorders and cell phone cameras can help record events, but even those can show different points of view. So, you need to be careful which sources you use — physical and electronic!

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Connie McCammon

Connie McCammon worked in the communications office for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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